Five Questions About the Russian Proposal

On the eve of impending American military action in Syria, Moscow has provided a potential “way out” for both the Assad regime and Washington. Under a new proposal, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov urged his Syrian counterpart Walid Muallem to “put chemical weapons stockpile under international control in an attempt to avoid US military strikes, and then have them destroyed.”

Russian Foreign Lavrov.   Utenriksdepartementet UD February 2010  

Russian Foreign Lavrov.

 

Utenriksdepartementet UD February 2010

 

In response to the most recent proposal offered by Russian-Syrian talks in Moscow, Muallem responded that " the Syrian Arab Republic welcomes the Russian initiative, motivated by the Syrian leadership's concern for the lives of our citizens and the security of our country, and also motivated by our confidence in the wisdom of the Russian leadership, which is attempting to prevent American aggression against our people.”

Unlike Muallem, US Secretary of State Kerry is skeptical that Assad will accept this Russian initiative.  He commented that “Syria could avert an American attack by relinquishing all of its chemical weapons,” but that Assad “isn’t about to do it, and it can’t be done.

So far, there has been overall support for Kerry’s offhand and rhetorical statement as well as for the Russian pitch within Syria.  Yet, if the Russian proposal is to be taken seriously by the international community, there are pressing questions that need to be addressed.

1.     While the United Nation’s Ban Ki-moon has “urged Syria to immediately agree to transfer chemical weapons and chemical precursors to a safe place within the country for international destruction,” there is no known information about the Russian process for weapons transfer. Is there a specific location or a process for which Russia can transfer weaponry?

2.     The proposal mentions that the weapons will come under international control. Will the UN spearhead this mission? If not, who is responsible?

3.     While Kerry has thrown out a deadline, has Russia provided the Assad regime with a deadline for the weapons transfer?

4.     If Assad agrees to surrender his chemical arsenal, what agency will be responsible for ensuring that all weapons remain out of Syrian control in the future? 

5.     Finally, if the proposal is implemented successfully, how will it alter the international community’s willingness to attack Syria? Or will it merely postpone an American attack on Syria?

As we learn more about the Russian proposal by the minute, the international community must demand answers to these unanswered questions before any decisions are made. Leaving them unaddressed could prove detrimental to any immediate or long-term resolution of the Syrian conflict.